The Depressed Cake Shop Hits L.A. With Art and Culture Show to Benefit Mental Illness

Baking grey-colored goodies gains popularity as a sweet way to raise awareness about a sensitive issue.

There’s a new, delicious way to raise awareness about depression and it’s coming to L.A. On August 23-24, the Buckwild Gallery in Venice will be transformed into The Depressed Cake Shop, a pop-up bakery and art and culture show.

The Depressed Cake Shop is a series of pop-up bakeries with a simple mission: bake grey cakes, sell them and donate the money to a local mental health charity.

The architect behind the tasty awareness campaign is Emma Thomas (better known as Miss Cakehead). As the founder of Eat Your Heart Out, a U.K.-based collective of creative food artists, Thomas has put on charity events for the last three years—including one that involved cakes that looked like sushi to benefit Japan’s 2011 tsunami victims.

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“Previous projects have made me aware that cake is a great way to get people discussing traditionally conversational topics,” Thomas writes on the Depressed Cake Shop's website. She decided this year to bring awareness to depression, a condition that affects approximately 350 million people worldwide.

The first bakery opened in London from August 2-4, followed by events in Kent, Oxford, Essex and Bristol, among other U.K. cities. More than 30 Depressed Cake Shops have popped up around the world since then, with San Francisco hosting the first U.S. event on Aug. 3.

Rebecca Swanner, owner of the baking company Secret Marmalade and who has struggled with depression herself, was so intrigued by Thomas’ charity bakery concept that she began planning L.A.’s first “depressed” pop-up with help from Valerie Van Galder,  president of marketing at New Regency Productions.

Van Galder, who has become a passionate cake designer in her spare time, is equally passionate about erasing the stigma surrounding mental illness. After helping care for a depressed family member for the past five years, she felt the need to help other families in similar situations. “People are often ashamed to admit they are suffering and many do not get the help that could save their lives and give them back their joy,” she says.

The grey baked goods bear little resemblance to the bright-colored sprinkled treats that come to mind when one thinks of cupcakes, but like Thomas says, “It’s about challenging stigmas and labels." In fact, desserts will only be allowed at the bakery if they have a grey exterior.

While the cakes may look dreary on the outside, biting into them reveals some have colorful insides that symbolizes hope. “You cut through that depression and you see that pop of color and you know that there is still beauty in the world,” says Swanner.

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From “Celebrities with Depression Cookies” to “Anxiety Macaroons” to “Blue Velvet Cupcakes,” many of the desserts, which include gluten-free and vegan options, are made by volunteers who use baking as a way of managing their depression.

“Baking allows you to be creative, gives you a focus and makes you feel like you’re accomplishing something,” says Swanner.

In an effort to make a splash, Swanner and Van Galder are going beyond cupcakes and bringing in art as well, which are either grey or sadness-themed, of course.

One piece features a girl who is sad because she is in zero gravity and can’t bake, another a depressed girl standing in the rain eating a donut.

The purpose of the art and the cakes is to bring together anyone who might benefit from finding others who struggle with depression, says Swanner. “What's so great about these cake shops is that they help you find a community of people who are dealing with the same issues.”

The proceeds will go to the West L.A. chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, who is in return donating cupcakes for the event.